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Unending trials of collapsed building culprits

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Unending trials of collapsed building culprits

For about four years now, two major cases bordering on building collapse in Lagos have been in court without a foreseeable end to punish the culprits. DAYO AYEYEMI reports

 

There has been a spike in the number of building collapse in the country with over 20 cases recorded in the last 15 years.
Of more concern is the lack of punishment for those responsible for the collapses until the public outcry that greeted the collapsed guest house of the Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) in 2014, where over 100 people including foreigners lost their lives.

This was followed by another four-storey building belonging to Lekki Worldwide Estate Limited, the developers of Lekki Gardens, in 2016 in Lagos. More than 30 people died in the collapse.
Before these two incidents, owners and developers of building collapse have been walking freely as if they were above the law.

The best the nation could do as to checkmate them was to set up and inquiry like the Abimbola Ajayi-led Lagos State Tribunal of Enquiry on Building Collapse in 2012 to unravel causes of structural failures in the state.
The tribunal noted that Lagos State had recorded 135 cases of building collapse in the last seven years.
It also identified gross indiscipline and corruption by all stakeholders as major causes of building collapse.

These, it said, rendered the relevant state laws ineffective.
Other factors responsible for building collapse range from quackery to poor workmanship, use of substandard materials, lack of supervision, poor foundation and structural defect among others.
However, it is interesting to know that four years after the collapse of SCOAN’s guest house building and two years after the Lekki Gardens’ incident, members of the public, especially professionals in the building environment, are worried over the unending court trials of the alleged culprits.

Trials
It would be recalled that the Lagos State Government filed 111 counts against the Registered Trustees of the Synagogue Church of All Nations and four others after a Coroner’s inquest indicted the church and the contractors of the building.

Charged alongside the Trustees of SCOAN are Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company; Jandy Trust Limited; and two engineers, who built the collapsed structure.
Also, the Lagos State government had, in 2016, arrested and arraigned the Managing Director of Lekki Gardens Estate Limited, Richard Nyong, before the Lagos Division of the State High Court over alleged complicity in the events leading to the collapse of a building in Lekki area of the state on March 10, 2016.

Arraigned alongside Nyong before Justice Sybil Nwaka were Lekki Gardens’ Executive Director, Sola Olumofe; the firm’s contractor, Odofin Taiwo; Omolabake Mortunde; Omotilewa Joseph; Lekki Gardens; Get Rich Investment Limited and HC Insight Solution Limited.

The defendants were charged with six-count charges for failure to obtain building approval for the collapsed building and involuntary manslaughter, offences contrary to and punishable under Section 75 (1) of the Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law of Lagos State 2010, and Section 229 of Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015 respectively.

As at the time of filing this report, New Telegraph gathered that the two matters have been going through hearings and adjournments in the last four years. Up till now, the cases are still pending in courts.
Expressing concern, first Vice President, Nigeria Institute of Building (NIOB) and former President of Building Collapse and Prevention Guild (BCPG), Mr. Kunle Awobodu, noted that the trials were still on-going but expressed worry over the slow procedures of the courts.
Besides, he raised another issue about what has happened to the sites of collapse buildings, pointing out that by the law in Lagos State, government ought to have taken possession.
He said: “Many buildings that collapsed, the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning Law 2010 says that such land should be confiscated by government. How are we sure that this is being followed? We need to verify if this section of the law is working.”

Government’s reaction
Responding to questions on justices for the high profile cases during the ministerial briefing of the state’s Ministry of Justice last week, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem, said that government would ensure justice in the cases against the founder of Synagogue Church of All Nations, Prophet T.B Joshua and other high profile cases.

On the slow pace of justice over Synagogue building collapse, Kazeem added: “The wheels of justice moves slowly, especially when it is a high profile case. As you know, that case has been on for a couple of years. Only recently, the prosecution closed its case. And usually when the prosecutor closes it case, the defence counsel is expected to open his.

“Rather than do this, the defense counsel filed a no case submission, claiming that the state government has made no case against the clergy. They lost that no case submission. So they have been instructed to open their defense so that the matter can move forward. And I believe that very soon, the case will come to conclusion. “

Stakeholders’ stand
Extremely disturbed by frequent cases of built collapse in Nigeria, building environment professionals have tasked themselves on self-regulation and the need to commence the use of National Building Code (NBC), which stipulates minimum conditions for all stages of building project delivery.
The latest resolution among professionals, comprising engineers, builders, architects, real estate developers, town planners and surveyors, was coming following a storey building that caved in at No 9, Abeje Street, Morikaz Road in Agege Local Government Area of Lagos State penultimate Sunday.
Suggesting the way forward on the platform of Housing Development Group, the Executive Director, Construction Finance, National Assembly Staff Housing , Dr Beni Goka, said that peer reporting, self regulating, whistle blowing, creation of building inspectorate division would go a long way to halt cases of building collapse in the country.
A board member of the Chicago Association of Realtors, United States of America (USA), Mr. Abdulfatai EFTY, noted that Nigeria’s built environment professionals would need to regulate themselves in order to stop the activities of quacks and collapse of building in the sector.

Last line
As people await outcome of the trials, timely intervention of the real estate developers, builders, engineers and other stakeholders would be required to stop building collapse in Nigeria.

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